Quorum Court deadlocked over 2019 budget
County could face government shutdown if no agreement is in place by deadline
For the first time in 20 years, Crittenden County may not have a budget in place and could lead to a government shutdown on Jan. 1.
Quorum Court members found themselves divided along racial lines over a budget request by the Election Commission to continue to fund two coordinators in an off-year election, and a request by the County Clerk to give her employees a three percent pay raise on top of the five percent raise the county already gave its workers for next year.
“I’ve been here 16 years and we’ve never had an issue with the budget,” said County Judge Woody Wheeless. “It’s all personal with them. These issues to me, aren’t even worth it.”
Wheeless and acting County Treasurer Jane Coltharp had hoped to have the budget done in time for the Quorum Court to vote on at its Dec. 18 meeting.
State law requires counties to have their budgets adopted by the end of December.
During earlier budget hearings, the court’s six African- American justices attempted to cut the Election Commission’s budget for contract help from $28,000 to $18,000, and lobbied for the three percent pay increase for the employees in the clerk’s office.
Several of the black justices have had personal issues with the Republican controlled Election Commission throughout the year and had already cut $1,000 for Internet and $350 for postage from the commission’s budget.
The seven white justices came out against giving the clerk’s office a three percent raise citing the fact that all county employees had already been given a five percent raise, and that Personnel Committee chairman, Justice Lorenzo Parker, told the body earlier that there would be no more pay raises or adjustments approved for department heads.
They also held firm against the cuts to the Election Commission because no other department had its budget cut.
Justices gathered for another budget hearing Tuesday and at the request of Justice Vickie Robertson met behind closed doors for 20 minutes in an attempt to smooth things out and break the impasse.
“Thank you for giving us a few minutes to have a family meeting to make things run a little smoother this morning,” Robertson said.
Justice Hubert Bass offered a compromise that would give the clerk’s office a 1.5 percent pay raise and to set the Election Commission’s budget at the 2017 level of $23,000.
“I’m just trying to break the ice and get something going to start talking on,” Bass said.
Justice James Fraley said he could not support giving one department raises and not the others.
“I don’t understand how we can give one department head more than we give the others,” Fraley argued.
Bass said the reason the clerk’s office deserves the raise is because they are being asked to do more work.
“They basically have been reclassified with extra duties,” Bass said. “They are picking up a lot of extra stuff. So that is why she came back and asked us for this. The titles may have stayed the same, but the job duties have changed dramatically.”
Justice Robert Thorne asked how giving them more money will help them do their work.
“How does that take care of being overwhelmed with the work?” Thorne asked.
“ I’ve been here 16 years and we’ve never had an issue with the budget.” —
Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless.
By Mark Randall